SMOKETOWN, Pa. — Rohrer Seeds in Smoketown, Lancaster County, has been around a long time — since 1919, to be exact — but the business is continually evolving. This family-owned business adapts to changing times and offers new products to its customers.
The fourth-generation leader of Rohrer Seeds, Doug Rohrer (50 years old), is the president of Rohrer Seeds. It was established by his great-grandfather P.L. Rohrer, who was the seed manager for Glick Plant Farm on Old Philadelphia Pike in East Lampeter Township (Lancaster County). P.L. Rohrer bought that business in 1919 before purchasing a tract of land across the road and constructing in 1923 what is still the Rohrer Seeds’ retail store and headquarters.
What started as a business with a small store selling gardenThe early 20th century saw the first harvest of farm seeds. They have survived and thrived. It has expanded into new markets and has thrived in the 21st century. Adapting to the transition of Lancaster County — from a primarily rural area to a suburban and more commercialized region — has allowed Rohrer Seeds to remain competitive in an era very different from its earlier days. Along with that, Rohrer’s has expanded its reach beyond Lancaster and surrounding counties to serve customers within a 120-mile radius of its home base. Rohrer’s also serves a growing number mail-in and internet customers from faraway places.
Rohrer’s retail store remains the public face of the business. Customers who shop there appreciate its 100-plus racks of vegetable, flower, fruit and herb seeds, as well as a knowledgeable staff available to answer customers’ questions. Rohrer Seeds increased its showroom size eight years ago to make it a one-stop shop for all its customers. This increased space allows Rohrer Seeds to offer everything from bird baths and bird houses to its inventory. gardening accessories, garden toolsBooks about gardeningAs well as herbicides or fertilizers. There’s even a selection of children’s gardening gadgets. The store’s unique old-time feel also draws visits from Lancaster County tourists.
Everything from Zucchini to Arugula
On a recent February afternoon, there were many early-season shoppers in the store to buy seeds. One customer wanted to know more about sunflower seeds. Store manager Jim Griesemer asked her, “How tall do you want them to be and what color are you looking for?”He was soon able connect her to the chocolate cherry sunflower, a purple variety with seven foot tall stature. He also advised her on the selection of cucumbers. Griesemer, who is an expert on the seeds, agreed to help. “You can make pickles with those, but I wouldn’t can them.”
Nearby, John Wohlberg (of Douglassville in Berks County) was making their annual pilgrimage at Rohrer Seeds with Linda Wohlberg. John was already armed with a shopping list, and 11 seed packets in hand. “That’s just the beginning,”They joke that they grow everything, from arugula and zucchini. Linda stated that the couple planned to plant seeds in February under their cold frame. Linda also said that they had already harvested lettuce last week.
Rohrer Seeds’ annual catalogue has been a mainstay of its retail operations for decades.
Many businesses were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Rohrers were not. Many turned to the Internet for help, as more people stayed home. gardeningIt is an affordable way to eat fresh food without the need to visit the supermarket. As a result, Rohrer Seeds’ home-gardeningThe business took off with a 40% increase in 2020 compared to 2019, and another 10% in 2021. Doug Rohrer stated that “only time will tell”If the increased interest in gardeningThis will continue into the post-pandemic period.
He attributes much of this increase to the growth in the company’s mail-order business. The rise in sales was achieved by revamping the website and doing more online marketing, which extended Rohrers’ reach nationwide. Rohrers Seeds also bought the seed inventory and marketing lists of the former Meyer Seed Co. Baltimore in 2021. This expanded the area that Rohrer Seeds serves into Maryland, Delaware, Virginia.
Rohrers also increased the production and distribution of its annual catalog from 40,000 copies January 2020 to 80,000 copies 2021 and 90,000.2022 to encourage continued growth.
Rohrer Seeds’ retail operation is well-known for its annual catalogue. Mailed out during January for decades, it’s become a welcome harbinger of spring for generations of gardeners. Rohrer’s 2022 catalogue features an eye-appealing new look, with its cover depicting a crystal bowl holding colorful examples of “a mix of the best tomato varieties on the market.” It has color photos throughout the catalogue’s 75 pages.
Doug Rohrer said that customers still like the Dwarf White Blossom snowpeas, but they also like new varieties like sweetcorn, which can hold its sugar longer and have shorter growing days.
This year’s catalogue highlights some newer trends in the world of gardening. For example, Rohrer’s “Container Collection”There are 30 seed varieties that are geared towards people. “growing in urban gardens, raised beds and containers … to grow more with less space.”
And, with organic produce’s popularity, Rohrer’s is now in its third year of offering 25 varieties of their Amish Country Organics seeds. Cover crop seeds — something that Rohrers has long sold to farmers — are now available in smaller packages for home gardeners. The catalogue was designed by Griesemer and includes seeds for microgreens and sprouts as well as plants for pollinators.
The catalogue also has several pages with Rohrers’ lawn, farm and wildlife seed lines. There are many sizes of grass seeds that can be used for landscaping as well as hay and pasture. There are also seeds available for wildlife forages, and root crops. Rohrer’s expanded its line of wildlife food-plot options by partnering with Doug’s business associate, Rob Fisher, who acquired Tecomate Wildlife Systems in 2020.
Going beyond Seeds
This cozy corner of Rohrer Seeds’ expanded showroom holds gardening books as well as a rack of Rohrer’s Amish Country Organics seeds.
Retail business was once Rohrer Seeds’ main income; however, it now represents just 15% of the operations, due mainly to growth in the wholesaling side. Doug Rohrer stated that he has computerized data at his disposal. “We’re different things to different people.” His computer’s statistics show that wholesaling is key to why his 40-employee company is thriving.
The company offers gardenCenters with Rohrer-brand fertilizers, seeds, and soils tools. Rohrer lawn can also be purchased. gardenHydroseed and mulch are available to landscapers. Both sales areas have had success. The landscaping business sector was first undertaken by Doug’s grandfather, Willis Rohrer, in the 1960s and ’70s as he saw suburbia becoming the new American dream. In Lancaster County, which has become more rural over the past decades, Rohrers’ farm seed business has become a smaller but still vital part of its larger picture.
Doug Rohrer and his team are eager to keep in touch with customers who visit their retail store. Much can be learned by noting what shoppers buy and what they’re asking for. Social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, also play an increasing role in the company’s customer contact, he said.
Rohrers Seeds will host their annual spring kickoff event today, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. with giveaways and refreshments. “Ask the Expert”For gardening advice. Demonstrations of how Rohrers packs seeds will be shown, as well as information on seed starting.